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Russia/Uzbekistan: Presidents Sign Strategic-Partnership Agreement

Ahead of today's meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Tashkent, the Uzbek and Russian presidents have signed a treaty of strategic partnership. The document is a significant step in the rapprochement the two countries have undertaken in the past months.

Prague, 17 June 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Uzbek President Islam Karimov and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin have signed a treaty to form a strategic partnership, covering economic and political aspects of cooperation between the two countries.

The document was signed yesterday Tashkent, ahead of a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in the Uzbek capital.

Karimov described the treaty as "a fundamental executive document," while Putin said it "opens a new page" in the history of the two countries' relations. "The strategic partnership treaty between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Uzbekistan is indeed a new stage in building our bilateral relations, it is a natural result of our joint work in recent years," Putin said.

Under the treaty, Russia and Uzbekistan will coordinate their efforts in creating an effective regional security system in Central Asia. The sides pledged to maintain the partnership between the security councils, Foreign, Defense and Interior ministries, and the special services to combat terrorism and extremism. The two will jointly counter the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, drugs trafficking, organized crime, and other threats to international security.
"It's largely a reaction against the failure of U.S.-Uzbek relations over the past two years." -- Lewis

Uzbekistan already has strategic partnerships with the United States and Ukraine.

David Lewis is the director of the International Crisis Group's Central Asia project in Osh, in southern Kyrgyzstan. He said the treaty reflects the great efforts that Russia has made in recent years to draw Central Asian states into a closer cooperation framework. At the same time, Lewis added, Karimov is increasingly turning to Russia and China as he becomes frustrated with Western criticism of stalled economic reforms and alleged human rights abuses.

"It's largely a reaction against the failure of U.S.-Uzbek relations over the past two years. There's discussion [in Washington] about whether aid from the United States. should be ended to Uzbekistan because of human rights concerns. The [2002 strategic-partnership] agreement between the United States and Uzbekistan about internal reform within the country has not been observed by the Uzbek government. There has been very little internal reform and the regime is becoming something of an embarrassment for Washington," Lewis said.

Alex Vatanka is the editor in chief of "Jane's Sentinel: Russia and the CIS," a security-assessment publication, based in London. He told RFE/RL that the treaty is part of a process of rapprochement Uzbekistan has undertaken to bridge the gap with Moscow, particularly in security.

"The notable increasing cooperation has been around now for over a year, particularly with the increasing intelligence cooperation. The Uzbek security service has helped the Russian foreign intelligence service to block Chechen funds coming from the Gulf Arab states to find its way to Russia and Chechnya. And in return the Russian Federal Security Service has clamped down on Uzbek opposition leaders who reside in Russia," Vatanka said.

The treaty signed yesterday also includes a pledge to step up economic integration, especially in the fuel and energy sector. Putin also said Russian gas monopoly Gazprom is ready to invest more than $1 billion in the Uzbek economy. Also, Uzbekneftegaz and Russia's LUKoil signed a production-sharing agreement to develop gas fields in the southwest of the country, worth some $1 billion. A joint company will be set up for implementing the project under the production-sharing agreement, effective for 35 years.

Vatanka said economic cooperation makes sense in the light of the cooler relations Uzbekistan has with organizations like the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and International Monetary Fund. However, he said, such cooperation is "on shaky ground," particularly if it is based only on energy.

"Thirty five years is a long time. The energy sector is extremely volatile. There is no guarantee either the Russians would have an interest in Uzbekistan in five years' time, or whether the Uzbeks would see Russia the ideal partner if there is a change in the West's attitude toward Tashkent," he said.